The Day After the Day Without a Woman: A Letter to Four Men

So yesterday was National Women’s Day, and women who could afford it stopped doing all the good stuff they do to make it the Day Without a Woman, and God bless them. Big symbolic gestures made by the people who can afford them are how most of the good in this world gets started. But of course the hills of the internet were alive with the sound of rhetoric all day long. A lot of it was from women expressing solidarity, but at least as much of it came from men. Before it all made my head hurt so much I had to walk away from the computer, I identified four different types of straight men who were sounding off. (Gay men were part of the conversation, too, of course, but their relationship with women is a completely different paradigm. Most of the day, I just felt like I owed them an apology.) Now that I’ve had some Excedrin and a good night’s sleep, I’d like to answer those four straight man-types back.

Type Number One: The Troll:  You boys are the ones who spent all day yesterday trolling your sister-in-law’s Facebook wall, looking for strange women to piss off. You had your misogyny memes all cued up and your big boy cuss words in reserve, and frankly, kumquat, we saw you coming from a mile away. You little bastards are the loudest, most infuriating, and ultimately most dangerous subset of man known to woman—hell, one of you got himself elected President. One comment from you, and we know you’re not safe, to avoid you in the real world like the plague. You’re the guy we know will hurt us given the slightest chance because you hate us and believe in your rotten little hearts that to punish us is your right. But as loud and as horrifying as you are, you’re a tiny voice shrieking in the wilderness; there just ain’t that many of you. For the purposes of the internet, you’re easy enough to ignore. And you give the angriest among us womenfolk something to snack on. So go ahead on, dumbass. You do you.

Type Number Two: The Iron John: You’re the ones who feel marginalized by the whole notion of a National Women’s Day, the ones who feel a little queasy at the idea of anything that’s not about you. You ask why can’t there be a National Men’s Day. (There is one.) Whenever any of us says men have historically done this or that bad thing, you’d rise up from the grave to holler, “Not all men!” Many of you are the same guys who spent Valentine’s Day complaining to the perfectly attractive female friend who shares your office and eats lunch with you every day that women only like men who treat them like crap and that’s why you don’t have a girlfriend. You spent most of yesterday demanding affirmation from the women who care about you that you really are a nice guy. You’re irritating as hell, but I can’t be too mad at you. I know a lot of you are one really good eHarmony date away from re-thinking this whole thing.

Type Number Three: The Motherfucking Expert: You’re the ones who spent yesterday cracking jokes and laughing at how ridiculous it all was. You’re just sure we silly womenfolk are over-reacting, again, because you know that’s what women do. From the safety of a context that extends precisely as far as the length of your dick, you think you have the whole wide world worked out, that life is for all of us as you perceive it to be for you, and if we are finding it difficult, we’re just not trying hard enough. Or worse, we’re oversensitive, making things hard on ourselves and blaming everybody else. You’re the guys who talk about how we women live on a pedestal; you joke that we shouldn’t want to be equal to men, that to be so would be a step down. In the same breath, you say we’re all for equality until some manly job needs doing, then we come crying for Daddy, and isn’t that cute? Last night as I unclogged the kitchen sink while my six-foot-two, two hundred pound, bearded Aussie Viking of a husband created something pretty on his desktop, I mused at length on how satisfying it would be to choke each and every one of you to death with your own jockstrap. But after a night’s rest and reflection, I will simply say: Fuck you.

Type Number Four: The Ally: Speaking of that Aussie Viking. You were the ones I read the most yesterday. You outnumbered every other type by at least two to one, and that’s awesome. You know having a National Women’s Day takes nothing away from you, that the rights women demand are to be shared, not stolen. You see us, respect us, collaborate with us, and recognizing your own strength and privilege, you risk your own comfort, security, and physical safety to defend us. And while some of us have been hurt too much and too deeply to dare to trust you, I think I speak for most of us when I say we see you, too. We love you. And we thank whatever higher power we believe in for you every single day.

The Internet Can’t Love You

Only people. And dogs. And cats if they so choose. And horses, of course. And guinea pigs and sugar gliders and all those other warm, fuzzy creatures people keep as pets, probably, and maybe even snakes. But not spiders.

And definitely not the Internet.

Social media has taken passive aggression to heights the military psychiatrists who first coined the term in 1945 could never have imagined. See if this sounds familiar. Somebody is pissing you off. That meaner has hurt your feelings, stolen your happy thought, danced all over your last damned nerve. But for whatever reason, you don’t want to confront them directly. Maybe they have more power than you. Maybe a confrontation will just turn into this whole big thing, and who needs that? Maybe it’s just in your nature to be a passive-aggressive whiny-ass. Don’t be ashamed; millions share your affliction and parade it daily. In any case, telling the source of your pain to piss off directly is not an option. But even so, you cannot in good conscience allow that blight on humanity to get away with that shit even one more time.

So you take it to the Internet. Without ever actually defining the conflict or identifying your oppressor, you air your grievance. You open a vein and spill. The individual people who read your post and know you will probably hate it.  People (and dogs, etc.) who genuinely care when you’re hurting would much rather know exactly who did you wrong and how so they know where to show up and whether to bring you a nice, consoling milkshake or quick lime and a gun. Those individual people will probably send you some kind of a private message asking some version of “WTF is going on?” If they really love you, they’ll restrain themselves from adding, “You passive-aggressive whiny-ass?”

But the Internet looooooves (or”Liiiiiiiiikes”) your post. Not you; never you; but your passive-aggressive reveal of yourself as the victim of some wrong. Because that allows the Internet to feel one of its favorite things. Pity. Friends of friends you’ve never even heard of will come out of the woodwork to tell you how sorry they are, how rotten those unnamed bastards can be (they know; their lives are full up to the top with unnamed bastards), how deeply they feel your pain. Each one of those individual posts comes from an individual person who is probably quite nice and almost certainly means well. But taken collectively in response to shit they in fact know nothing about, they aren’t people; they’re the swarm that is the Internet.

Which doesn’t mean it can’t make you feel better. That spontaneous outpouring of impersonal pity  can feel like just the balm you need to get you past your pain. But be careful. Because it isn’t love or even empathy.  It’s just pity.

Pity gives the Internet a seemingly benign outlet for its most favorite thing of all:  feeling superior. “Oh, you poor baby!” spoken by a loved one means, “I feel bad because you feel bad.” “Oh you poor baby,” from the Internet means, “Maybe my life is shit and I’m a moron, but at least I’m better off than this poor bastard.”  Passive aggressive pronouncements of pain make this kind of judging effortless.  If you never say what the problem is, the Internet can assume the absolute, wickedest worst. So be careful.

This is why the Internet, for all its, “You go, girl/boy/undetermined gender and that’s your choice and yay for you!” grandstanding, loves the weak and hates the strong. The weak make the Internet feel better about itself. The strong . . . those bitches are just showing off. And it can turn on you faster than you can hit “Send.” The same endless wellsprings of kindness who succored you through your misery will stone you in the public square just as soon as you tell them you’re better.  Because the Internet doesn’t love you.  It loves pitying you. And it loves judging you even more. So be careful. Hipster. Hypocrite. Poseur. Slut.  These are all Internet synonyms for “possibly superior to me in some way.” And they’re far from the worst.

The Internet is a mob, a hive brain, specialized bits and pieces but rarely the whole of all those individuals with an IP address, banded together for the sole purpose of belonging at any cost. Every chat group, every friends list, every hashtag is a different mob with a different focus, but it all amounts to the same thing–be one of us, be no better than the median, or be the Other. The Enemy. That’s how teen-age girls get hounded into suicide. That’s how female game designers get hounded out of their homes.

And of course I know it’s not all bad.  That same hive brain, that same Internet can accomplish great things, raise huge wads of cash for charity, spread awareness of social ills, keep Firefly on the air–wait, not that, but stuff like that.  But it doesn’t do it for love.  It does it to belong. It does it to feel superior.  It does it to judge. The motives of individual people can be entirely altruistic–they genuinely want to help. But the Internet just wants to be so right that all who oppose it are wrong. Meaning it can eat them.

There are wonderful, amazing, kind, brilliant people all over the Internet. I met my husband there. He’s a person; I know him as a person; I trust him as a person. I know the bits and pieces of his character he shows to the digital world, and I know all the other stuff, too.  And I know he loves me, he himself. the individual human.  Not the Internet.

The Internet can’t love you.  Get a dog.